By Harrison Pierce
Originally published on Advocate.com October 30 2009 1:00 PM ET
On the first two seasons of VH1's Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew Pinsky attempted to help a series of famous and/or infamous personalities overcome myriad drug and alcohol addictions. For his third round of televised rehabilitation, he’s narrowed the focus to one specific, more taboo form of dependency: sex addiction. Although VH1 is retitling the show Sex Rehab to downplay the celeb factor this season, participants do include former Playmate and Colin Farrell sex tape star Nicole Narain, ex-porn star Kendra Jade, and gay British film director Duncan Roy.
For many Americans, the show’s November 1 premiere will serve as an introduction to Roy, who, despite a somewhat lower profile here in the States, cut quite a notorious figure back in late-'70s, pre-Thatcher England. Fleeing a lower-class home and a sexually abusive stepfather, Roy managed to infiltrate upper-crust society by passing himself off as the son of a lord. After serving time in prison for his artful, if criminal, ruse, Roy went on to reinvent himself once again as an acclaimed indie gay filmmaker. His autobiographical 2002 film, AKA, won numerous awards on the gay festival circuit, and the British film academy nominated Roy as one of the year's most promising newcomers.
Since then, he’s gone on to direct Elizabeth Hurley in the thriller Method and a maturing David Gallagher (of TV’s 7th Heaven) in a stylish updating of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Advocate.com recently spoke with the refreshingly candid filmmaker about how he ended up in Sex Rehab, his thoughts on sex addiction among gay people, and exploiting a potentially exploitative situation in the name of true healing.
Advocate.com: So, Duncan, how’d you end up in Sex Rehab?
Duncan Roy: Well, I’d been going to meetings for sex addiction, and a friend of mine called me and said they’re doing this show, and I was like, "Yeah, right, like I’m going to be a part of that." But then the producer called me and he seemed like a nice guy — a gay guy — and he talked to me at length about the show and Dr. Drew. I’d never seen Celebrity Rehab and didn’t even know who Dr. Drew was because I don’t have a television. I don’t know any reality shows. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn’t alone with this issue and agreed to it.
When did you first realize sex addiction was a problem in your life?
Well, I’d been sober for 12 years and eight months by the time I did the show, but eight months prior to that I kind of hit a wall in my sobriety. And that wall was that I was sober for alcohol and drugs but I was still acting out sexually. Now, if I describe my sexual behavior to many gay men, they might say it was perfectly reasonable to be doing what I was doing: looking at pornography, hooking up online, seducing straight boys. But then I got into a situation where I was online with an alternative personality. Now, the more you get people to admit they’re on Gaydar or Adam4Adam or Manhunt, they’ve probably got one or two profiles. But once I was doing all that, I realized I was not the person I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be the kind of guy who forsook the idea of having a relationship for this very time-consuming life online and on the streets [because I wasn’t going to bars].
Were you the only gay participant on the show?
As it turned
out, other men on the show who identified as straight had had sexual
relations with men. You know, sex addiction takes no hostages. The
moment you go in to meet other sex addicts, they’re pretty open to sex.
But those guys didn’t identify as gay?
A problem I’ve
encountered with gay people here — they’re very prescriptive. You sleep
with a man once and you’re gay. That’s not the case, and consequently
you’ve got 80% of the population who might want to
experiment or try things but are petrified of being thrown out of the
straight camp and even more scared of being embraced by the gays. And
you know what? The gays and the straights at either end of the spectrum
have totally determined the sexual agenda for the rest of us. And it’s
a really big problem because the whole gay thing — it sticks in my
throat because it’s about drinking, taking drugs, it’s about looking a
certain way, it’s about sounding a certain way. In this country it’s
about doing things that kind of negate who you are. But yes, I was the
only gay person [laughs].
Were you worried about the potentially exploitative nature of the show?
With the kind of people they had on offer — and they had really good
sex therapists — I thought, Fuck it, I’m gonna go in there, they’ll pay
me money, and I’m gonna take this treatment and work it. I don’t give a
fuck whether it’s great television or not. As a result of me taking it
really seriously, it created a culture of real treatment. Soon they
stopped calling the show Celebrity Rehab and started calling it a
Did you get the vibe that any of the other participants were there simply for 15 minutes of reality television fame?
A very small percentage. But I wouldn’t put up with it. I would stamp
out any kind of ludicrous behavior. It was me who started doing that
first and then Jenny [Ketchum, former porn star Penny Flame] and then
Kendra and then Amber [Smith, supermodel] and then the two guys — we
all started taking things really seriously. Turned out it was a big
problem for the production because we weren’t fucking each other, we
weren’t running around screaming, we weren’t taking drugs. We were in
bed every night by 10 because we were so exhausted from the work we
were doing. They used the same camera crew from Celebrity Rehab on
our show and kept them there until 3 in the morning because they
were used to late-night insanity — you know, things that were external.
But on our show, it was an internal thing, which is far more
interesting. Although I think VH1 is a bit pissed off about that.
Was Dr. Drew your primary therapist?
He’s not a
therapist. I kind of think he’s a bit of a charlatan. I mean, just
meeting him, I had serious problems with aspects of his treatment. For
instance, he believed in a 12-step program to deal with our
problems and yet he didn’t believe in God, which is absolutely
essential to the success of a 12-step program. So I kind refused
to deal with him.
Did you express this on camera?
all the time. I told him, "I’m pretending you’re not here" [laughs]. A
lot of doctors in this country have a God complex. They really believe
in their own omnipotence. I said to him once, "I’m as bright as you." He
really tried very hard to get to be my friend. And we’re quite friendly
now. But during the show I found him really irritating. The woman who
was the actual sex therapist on the show, however, was just brilliant
and made me do things I’d never done before. I took it so seriously and
went on such a journey with her.
In your autobiographical film
AKA, you clearly illustrate that you were a victim of serious sexual
abuse. Do you believe there’s a link between that abuse and your
sexually compulsive behavior?
For me, there’s a direct
relationship. That was an unresolved trauma that I revisited again and
again. Basically, the sexual escapades I was having fell into two very
specific categories: One was sort of "you’re cute and let’s go for it"
normal; the other, however, involved picking up really dangerous guys
who had, like, guns. I was basically re-creating the fear that I had
with my stepfather. I was retraumatizing myself. Since realizing that
I’ve become a very different person. Really confident, really happy,
not angry, not people-pleasing. I can tell you, it breaks my heart that
it took me this long to feel good about who I am.
faked your identity and immersed yourself in '70s British upper-class
culture, your life took on a sort of Patricia Highsmith quality — at
the time, did you feel like some kind of bold literary character?
Babe, I was 16 and from a small seaside town. I didn’t read
novels. It wasn’t all a grand literary allusion. It was just me wanting
what the rich people had. I sort of saw that they were free and that
their stories were fabulous. I wanted a fabulous story. I didn’t want a
story about a small house, in a poor area, being fucked in the ass by
my stepfather. I wanted to have a new story that was glamour and
gilding and jewels and dressing up and a Joan Crawford mama.
In England you were known as “the prisoner," then as a "maverick filmmaker"… do you mind being known now as a "sex addict"?
Not at all, because I know in many ways I’m in the vanguard of
something quite extraordinary by being on the show. I know that there
are a lot of us out there.
Do you think sex addiction is more rampant in the gay community?
What you have in the gay community is a shame-based society. A lot of
these men come with a lot of shame into the big cities because they’ve
been thrown out of their homes, or they’ve left looking for something
better. So I think a lot of people drown their sorrows in alcohol and
sexually acting out because it gives them power. I think we use sex
differently than straight people. I think men together use sex very
differently than women together or straight people together. I think we
explore ideas of power, lost power — a lot of us feel very powerful when
we walk into a club and get looked at. There’s a whole aspect to it
which is about self-worth.
When Sex Rehab airs, will you watch it?
I don’t have a television, so ...
OK, this is kind of an embarrassing question to ask, but when you’re
shooting a show like this and you have cameras on you at all times,
even in your bedroom ...
Can I tell you the most embarrassing
thing about [shooting the show]? I realized that I’m a natural to have
a camera in my face 24-7 [laughs]. I mean, it was like
going into a gay bar when I was 23 years old. All eyes were
on me. I felt absolutely validated, from the moment I got up, tying my
shoes in the morning, to having a wash at night, I suddenly felt, My
life is suddenly worth something. It’s tragic how that happens
Um, I was actually going to ask ...
I did not jerk off. But I was jerking off a lot before I went in there.
I don’t know how many times you jerk off a day, but I was doing it
whenever I could. Before I did the show and got help ... like, if you were
here, I’d be like, I hope this interview doesn’t go on too long because
I’m dying to see that new piece of pornography.
Speaking of filmed images, what’s next in your movie career?
I just finished a film called Whitstable, which is a kind of
documentary about the artist Damien Hirst, and I’m doing The Book of
Resentments, which is my quintessential L.A. film. It’s about a man who
goes up Runyon Canyon every day and talks to God. He’s just a good guy
doing the right thing, but then somebody fucks him over big-time, so he
gets permission from God to take him out.
It’s funny how Runyon
can be a spiritual place for Angelenos. In fact, I hike up there almost
every Sunday. Although I don’t know if it counts as spiritual if I’m
blasting Madonna on my iPod the whole time ...
[Laughs] No, it
doesn’t. You’ve got to experience it without it. Before my dog died, I
used to go up there counting dogs. Now I count men I objectify.
Hmm. Maybe this problem is more common than I, er, we want to admit ...